After T left returned to Canada after finishing his one year internship in Japan, I earned the distinction of being THE only foreigner in the office. I will dedicate this article to inform you of the pros and cons of being the lone non-Japanese in a Japanese computer software company.
Let’s start with the pros. I got to practice my Japanese… a lot. Having no one else to speak to in English gave me all the right reasons to study Japanese. And I would say that starting this week, I’ve learned more Japanese in a week than I used to learn in a month. I was well on my way to mastering the Japanese Language.
Another pro is I was able to know more about my Japanese officemates. When before whenever I have the urge to converse, I immediately go to T knowing that our discussions will not be limited to weather, among other simple stuffs. Now, unless I want to engage my General Manager (my only officemate, who is relatively fluent in English) into useless non-work-related conversations, I had no other choice but to approach my Japanese officemates and talk about the weather, again, “among other simple stuffs”.
Also, I unwittingly earned exclusive rights to everything English in the office… the English versions of all the softwares and boy are they many… the English Microsoft Natural Keyboard… all the English Books… among several others. It’s surprising how much they spend on these English stuffs considering it’s only the foreigners who use these. I’m not complaining though.
As for the cons, I could be quite frustrating not being able to engage people in conversations deeper than the weather, “among other simple stuffs”. Although I did improve my Japanese, it was still not enough to hold meaningful conversations. In my earnest desire to “talk”, I had to resort to emails and newsgroups, of which I had many anyways.
No matter how much I pretend to recognize the advantages of being the only foreigner in the office, I can’t ignore the fact that it’s pretty lonely down here. I just try two comfort myself knowing that in two or three weeks time, a new English-speaking Canadian will be coming and come November, a new Tagalog/English-speaking Filipino trainee will be relocating to Kagoshima.
Then again, I should still start mastering this Japanese Language. This is the only sure way to always be able to communicate well with the people around me. Then and only then will I not need an English/Tagalog-speaking friend to keep me company. Besides, by the looks of it, these Japanese seem to have all the properties of a good friend, if only I can communicate well with them.
As the age-old adage goes… “Learning a new language opens a whole new world.” I can’t wait to open this new world that awaits me.